Training camp is finally here, even genuine practices. This is the first time all year that we, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, have had the opportunity to take the field in any capacity, which is an all-important step in the process of evaluating your offseason decisions and beginning to put the puzzle together that will shape the upcoming season.
The Steelers are coming off of an 8-8 season, but while they will default to clichés about how you are what your record says you are, they know they have the potential to be much better. Still, they enter training camp with some questions to answer.
They are no different than any team in the NFL in that regard, in any year. Nobody comes to practice as a finished product. So during this series, we are going to highlight some of the most significant storylines that figure to play out over the course of training camp.
Headline: Young players stepping up at tackle
The retirement of Ramon Foster necessitated that at least one starting spot along the offensive line would change. While the total number of starters who are changing will still be left at one, competition at the right tackle position will determine whether or not the positions of those starters gets jumbled.
Basically, the Steelers will be using these next few weeks to determine whether or not at least one of either Chukwuma Okorafor or Zach Banner is capable of being a full-time, 16-game starter at right tackle. Okorafor was the team’s swing tackle in 2018, and Banner held that position last year, so at least one will be qualified for that role in 2020.
Between the two, Okorafor is the only one with starting experience. He has started two games, one in each of his first two seasons, but in 2019, the one game he started was the only game for which he was active. Banner was active for all 16 games, and logged over 200 offensive snaps, but they all came as an extra lineman, a tackle-eligible tight end, which is almost exclusively run-blocking.
In the even that neither of these younger tackles instills in the coaching staff the confidence that they can handle the job, then the Steelers will have to slide Matt Feiler back over to right tackle, where he has started 25 games over the past two seasons.
Their hope is to move him to left guard to fill Foster’s vacancy. He has started two games at guard and played there extensively during offseasons and preseasons past, so they are confident that he can handle it, and potentially for the long term, though he will be a free agent in 2021 no matter where he starts.
It would be nothing short of a disappointment for the Steelers organization if they cannot manage a starting tackle out of either Banner or Okorafor, especially because Banner and starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva are unrestricted free agents after this season. In other words, they need to make sure they have some answers before they kick off against the Giants, and not just for the 2020 season, but beyond.